It is rarely that I have a think about what I write in a note from a legal point of view but I did consider that before writing this. I checked the most recent reviews of this book and was taken by the clear difference between that supplied by the SMH which was factual and supportive of the journalist author’s determinations while the Oz review started out as follows.
‘Lawyers representing George Pell have demanded an apology and retraction from Fairfax and The Guardian over articles repeating child sexual abuse allegations made in a new book described by the cardinal as a “character assassination”.
The legal demands were sent to the media outlets at the weekend after a book made a series of allegations against Cardinal Pell over his role in the sex abuse scandal engulfing the Catholic Church.
They include unsubstantiated claims of wrongdoing by Cardinal Pell, who has stridently rejected any misconduct.
The articles published at the weekend reported allegations made in ABC journalist Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, published by MUP.’
I can only say all power to MUP and their legal advisers who must have indicated that the book should be published.
I see three themes in this book.
First there is the range and depth of sex abuse perpetrated mostly (not all) on young boys and youths under the care of Catholic priests and educators. This is limited largely to Victoria and the Ballarat diocese though story lines trail off elsewhere to Melbourne, Phillip Island and the Torquay Surf Club. However, this is only a subset of the larger Royal Commission investigation into similar matters but with a much wider ambit.
Milligan has been following this matter for a long time and expertly marshals a range of interviewees obtaining their stories as well as the wider issues of their ‘fit’ in their respective communities while she also tries to counter objections that might be raised with regard to their reliability while highlighting other instances of accusation higher in perceived reliability and non-contamination of group memory. Given that even the church has offered compensation (in varying degrees) to many of these people, there can be little doubting of what happened though there can be debate about details.
Second is the characterisation of the institutional response of the church, which was clearly tardy, disbelieving and also appeared to have engaged in some tactics (especially legal) which could be seen as more characteristic of a rich and powerful multinational organisation rather than a caring religious organisation with a pastoral mission.
Third is the involvement of George Pell on two levels. Was he privy to what was happening in the Ballarat diocese when some of the worst of these abuses were playing out and parents and others were being fobbed off and serial offenders transferred into new opportunities to further their abuse pattern? As the formulator (he takes credit for it regularly) of the Melbourne Response was he continuing a pattern of dampening down any damage to the church institution at minimal cost while employing the blunt and savage weapon of legal warfare? Is there a continuing pattern of avoidance and protection?
At the personal level has Cardinal Pell been a deft user of a mixture of legal ploys, overseas activities and poor health to avoid closer examination? Are there instances of Pell, himself, behaving inappropriately towards youngsters both in the pool at Ballarat and later in the Surf Club changing room at Torquay?
George Pell reads as a gifted individual physically and mentally. He clearly advanced rapidly within the ranks of his church to the very peak of that organisation. Milligan supplies individual commentary that indicates two very different sides to the man – one is warm, caring, helpful and worthy of his promotions another as dominating, curt and insensitive.
I believe he is both as are many intelligent, skilled successful manipulators in any large organisation. Apart from his personal behaviours which remain to be fully tested, I think he has acted quite predictably and appropriately in his own view especially as a Vatican II counter-reformer. He is loyal to his church organisation and his own image of himself as a protector and promoter of what he has devoted his life to. It is sad that his views and actions seem to have prevented him from fully engaging with the true nature of the deep malaise he was confronting with the enduring empathy and concern one might have expected. He seems to display the pastoral declarations require of him but fails all to often as a pastor. As an aside, I have to mention that similar behaviours from persons in similar positions of authority have been paraded before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse from other religions and State organisations.
I recommend this book for anyone wanting to explore these issues in some depth (366 pages) and some recent news indicates that there may yet be more to be written. I wouldn’t hold my breath.
‘ABC News May 17, 2017 – Victoria Police are considering whether to charge Catholic Cardinal George Pell over sexual assault allegations dating back to the late 1970s after receiving advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
DPP provided advice to Victoria Police about sexual assault allegations against the Cardinal dating back to 1978
Police to consider laying charges, after three officers flew to Rome last year to interview George Pell
He strenuously denied the allegations saying they were untrue, completely wrong
Three Victorian detectives flew to Rome last year to conduct a voluntary interview with Cardinal Pell
Police have issued a statement today saying they had received advice from Victoria’s DPP about a current investigation into sexual assault allegations and detectives would consider the advice before any charges were laid.’